College costs found to rise 40% in 10 years

State aid, endowments, fund raising are declining, College Board reports

October 22, 2003|By Shweta Govindarajan | Shweta Govindarajan,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - The cost of higher education across the United States has risen more than 40 percent over the past 10 years, according to a study released yesterday by the College Board.

The annual report, "Trends in College Pricing," said declines in state funding, endowments and fund raising contributed to soaring tuition costs at four-year public and private universities.

"In a troubled economy, colleges are faced with ... holding down prices without sacrificing educational quality," said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, a nonprofit group that owns the SAT, a standardized test that many colleges require for admission.

Average tuition fees at four-year, state-funded colleges rose 47 percent over a 10-year period, the study found. During the same period, tuition fees for private universities rose 42 percent.

"Hyperinflation in college costs has been pummeling parents and students for more than a decade, and the problem has not been a lack of spending by states or the federal government," said Rep. John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. "Even when states were increasing their investment in higher education in recent years, college tuition was skyrocketing."

On a yearly basis, the sharpest fee increases occurred at four-year public colleges, where average tuition costs rose to $4,694, a 14.1 percent increase from 2002, College Board officials said. Tuition at four-year private colleges reached an average of $19,710 this year, up 6 percent from 2002. At two-year public institutions, tuition rose to an average of $1,905, up 13.8 percent from last year.

The trend in climbing costs has sparked an effort by lawmakers to put an end to steep tuition increases.

Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon introduced a bill last week that would hold institutions accountable for raising tuition fees beyond a set standard pegged to inflation by denying them access to certain federal aid programs.

The study, the California Republican said, shows "college tuition fees keep going up much faster than the rate of inflation. We just need to continue to pursue a course that will bring these charges in line. We're losing the opportunity for too many of our young people to go to school."

College Board officials said more than $40 billion in state and federal grants, which students are not required to repay, were distributed this year. More than 60 percent of undergraduates at private institutions received some form of aid, the study said.

In addition, colleges and universities across the country are looking for ways to slash spending, including outsourcing some campus services and lowering operational costs, said David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

"There is no one-size-fits-all approach to affordability because of differences in mission, student population and fiscal resources, but that hasn't stopped private colleges ... from taking creative steps," Warren said.

The average cost of attending a four-year private college, including tuition, room and board, is $26,854, an increase of more than 5 percent from last year, the study found.

While the increases in tuition were expected, other aspects of the report were not. One of its most surprising findings was the degree to which scholarships from universities themselves have shifted from low-income to wealthier students.

Among financial aid recipients, for example, students from families earning $83,000 or more typically received larger scholarships from both public and private universities than their counterparts from families earning less than $31,000.

Some of that disparity can be explained by the fact that higher-income students tend to go to more expensive schools, so their scholarships are often larger to cover the higher price.

But the discrepancy also illustrates an increased effort by universities to spend their financial aid money luring top prospects, the College Board said, regardless of their incomes.

Times staff writers Nick Anderson in Washington and Rebecca Trounson in Los Angeles and the New York Times contributed to this report. The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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